The modern workforce is not static. Trends, needs, and values are updating as constantly as a social media feed.
Neither, then, should a skillset be static.
Boiled down, the upskilling definition means to gain new skills. It can be thought of in two ways: first, and most recognizably, as the personal acquisition of new skills; and second, as a global trend toward a more modern and technology-driven workforce.
Upskilling is distinct from reskilling. What is upskilling and reskilling? Reskilling distinguishes itself in that it implies a more fundamental shift in a worker’s skills. Upskilling builds upon an existing foundation. Think: learning to drive a motorcycle instead of a car, versus a pivot from cooking to woodworking.
But what is the incentive? That’s simple: careers and opportunities.
Broadly speaking, a 2017 CareerBuilder survey found that 68 percent of employers who sought new employees in Q1 had job openings they could not find qualified candidates for. The pandemic has only exacerbated this skills gap, with increased emphasis on digital skills and, for a time, reduced access to training. According to a Salesforce survey, 59 percent of employees report having less access to workplace learning since the pandemic began. This is all as the market evolves toward an increased use of artificial intelligence and automated services, with McKinsey Global Institute projecting in 2017 that 14 percent of the global workforce will need to be upskilled or reskilled by 2030. That’s 375 million workers who could be left behind.
These two concepts of upskilling, then, are connected—to evolve into the modern workforce with all its tectonic shifts, many will have to learn new skills. Consider it part of a lifelong education.
Benefits of Upskilling
Also to consider: a lifelong education has benefits aplenty.
Aside from the rich personal growth that comes with upskilling, it also sets up an employee for career advancement. Technology skills are not limited to the IT department anymore, and for professions in education the pandemic has highlighted the need for digital readiness and continued adaptation to preferred learning styles.
For employers, whether in business or education, upskilling goes beyond the certain benefit of having workplace functions met. Employees are increasingly wanting more from their on-the-job experiences, expecting not just a paycheck but a learning opportunity. Upskilling boosts productivity, employee retention, the ability of one employee to train others, and, by extension of all the above, boosts the bottom line and educational outcomes.
Also of note: Employees may benefit from both upskilling and cross-skilling, which is the acquisition of a second core competency on the job. Cross-skilling could be part of a more comprehensive approach to upskilling, empowering employees to understand other roles in the company or institution and see the bigger picture from a different point of view.
How to Upskill
There are a variety of options for upskilling employees, all of which will depend on the preferences of employees and the resources of employers.
One common and attractive approach is to offer tuition reimbursement—whether partial or full. For some employees, this will mean gaining depth and breadth from the full-time programs of reputable academic institutions and, thus, bringing in a valuable outside perspective. For others, this will mean participating in certificate programs that are more narrowly focused but offer that same level of depth. In education, this might mean a certificate program in administrative services or multiple-subject teaching.
Another approach to upskill your employees is to apply learning to on-the-job experiences. Companies like Salesforce and Amazon have set out with explicit goals and financial commitments for upskilling; Salesforce even developed its own personalized program for on-the-job learning. Others may find training through mentoring, educational lunches with guest speakers, or—popular during the pandemic—virtual learning that is interactive, with surveys, quizzes, and break-out sessions built in.
Upskilling in Education
A popular upskilling strategy in education, to cite one field that has long grown accustomed to upskilling, is to have practicing teachers enroll in graduate-level or certificate-based programs offered by academic institutions.
Teaching is one notable area where there is a shortage and, thus, a skills gap. As Baby Boomers reach retirement, teacher retention wanes, and fewer young people take an interest in the career field, it becomes more important than ever that those who are teaching deliver a high-quality education to students. Accessible online upskilling programs and mentorships help retain teachers and recruit new ones.
Other teachers seek master’s degrees in specialized areas to round out their bachelor’s expertise—for example, a master’s degree in special education to complement existing specialty in early education. This helps reduce the shortage of qualified teachers in the workforce while fulfilling the needs of teachers and expanding their network through academic pursuits.
Some teachers, meanwhile, seek out additional training to improve soft skills like communication.
Teachers learn best practices for communicating with teachers and students, including communication tools and methods for managing conflict—say, a parent who becomes defensive toward a critique of their child’s behavior. These soft skills also include cultural awareness, learning to be more inclusive of marginalized groups and those who speak languages other than English.
Teachers are notorious for their interest in continual learning; it’s one of the first qualities new teachers identify in themselves when joining the profession. The pandemic will only speed up the new kinds of upskilling that will be needed for education, including expectations for camera use, small group instruction, and how to address learning gaps.
Bachelor of Arts in Psychology at National University
The Sanford College of Education at National University is an expansive education school for new and established teachers. Through 50 on-site and online programs, the College aims to build lifelong learners who gain skills in communication, child development, and teaching styles—among other competencies. The College is accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education with certificates, master’s programs, and credential programs in Education Leadership, Teacher Education, Special Education, and psychology and educational counseling.